Friday, October 4, 2013

THE WOLF PRINCESS


Review of THE WOLF PRINCESS by CATHRYN CONSTABLE
(review based on an advance reading copy)

Here’s a wonderful discovery! THE WOLF PRINCESS is a magical story without any magic and feels like a retold fairy tale, though I wouldn’t know what tale. (Stated otherwise, the story feels both faintly familiar and pleasantly unpredictable.) The book opens with a mysterious, haunting tone that lurks throughout the rest of the novel, pulling me into this world.

Sophie knows there’s something odd about an obscure Russian princess inviting her and her two friends to her isolated castle during their winter vacation, but all three of the girls are so caught up in the majesty and wonder of Princess Anna’s secluded but glittery world that none want to ask the hard questions.

The story held my attention more firmly than I would have expected. I particularly loved the wolves as good guys. Being a big dog lover, I have a soft spot for wolves in fiction, but resent that they’re usually on the side of evil. Mind you, wolves don’t make a big appearance in this book. They’re mostly shadows prowling around the fringes of the story, but they were once the guardians of Princess Anna’s royal family and Sophie can’t help but fixate on and connect with the howls carried to her by the wind.

THE WOLF PRINCESS is an absolutely perfect book to curl up with on a chilly winter’s evening. The setting plays an integral role in the story. I often felt chilled by Constable’s descriptions of winter and snow and cold as well as ensnared by her depictions of a glittering winter wonderland as tragic and dangerous as it is beautiful. Hmm, as tragic and dangerous as it is beautiful: the exact same could be said of Princess Anna. 

My single criticism of THE WOLF PRINCESS is that Sophie’s two friends Delphine and Marianne sometimes feel more like set dressing than characters in their own right. From a writer’s perspective, I see how Sophie needs other humans with whom to interact so the story doesn’t feel static, but Delphine and Marianne prove quite forgettable. (Case in point: I had to reference my copy of the book to recall their names for this review.)

Besides that one minor complaint, I loved this story backwards and forwards. I describe it as perfect winter reading, but in truth it’s a delicious treat of a novel anytime of the year.

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